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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Half full

The Eighth Annual Dean of Students Half Marathon Challenge and Kayla Mire Food Drive is in the books! What a wonderful group of running partners (several shown above at the starting line). We trained from September through the culmination of the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon on December 6, 2015. The highlight was running through campus with about 25,000 of our new friends and a very supportive cheering section.Great touch, too, that Trinity alumnus Mark Greene won the full marathon.

We had about 75 people participate in the program this year. Runners ranged from steady participants to those who jumped in near the end after training a lot on their own. The group included students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents, friends, and Rachel's boyfriend Marc. Our charity was the San Antonio Food Bank and the runners and TUVAC collected the equivalent of nearly 15,000 pounds of food ($1 equals ten pounds). The Kayla Mire Food Drive is named for alumna Kayla Mire, who died in 2010 and was an advocate for the homeless.In eight years we have collected nearly two semi trailers of food.

Highlights of our training included a session on running form; a session on running gear; the Alumni Weekend 5K; a Halloween Hill Hell run; the Trinity Turkey Trot; a run around Woodlawn Lake followed by a taco breakfast; and a pasta dinner the night before the race. Kayla Mire's parents attended and Mr. Mire offered a few very touching remarks about Kayla. 

In assessing the program, 85% of respondents said they would do this again. The rest say they are graduating or moving away. Nearly all the students would love to receive a PE credit for the program. Of the 42 respondents, 40 said they would continue to be runners and two were unsure.

Please view the slide show below to gt a sense for the spirit of our runners. They look pretty happy - even in the post race photos. Mark your calendars for December 4, 2016 for the Ninth Annual Challenge.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Gift Exchange - A Trinity Christmas Story

Trinity Registrar Fred Rodriguez knows a good thing (or two) when he sees it. When he came to Trinity he soon identified one of his employees, Claudette Reese, as "a jewel." She helped him transition during a difficult time for the office. She trained him.

Claudette worked at Trinity for two-and-a-half years, from 1999- 2001. Her time here was cut tragically short by an auto accident that left her in critical condition, and her husband Timothy deceased. The vehicle they were in was hit at an intersection in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on December 6, 2000. Claudette accompanied Tim, who volunteered to participate in a webinar for the Social Security Office. Tim passed away from his injuries on December 28, one day after Claudette's birthday.

Injuries and Healing

That Claudette survived was somewhat of a miracle. The list of injuries is as impressive as it is frightening: three broken ribs, punctured lung, broken clavicle, facial lacerations, fractures to the pelvis, dental injuries, and a shattered elbow. Today Claudette is quick to point out that the most shattering wound of all was losing her husband of 30 years. Fred Rodriguez was concerned that Claudette, who was in critical, wouldn't make it. He says the pain was immense and she was still struggling, physically, a year after the accident and is still recovering some 15 years later. 

Claudette would eventually move home to Austin, where she worked as an administrator at Scott and White Hospital.

There is another...

Jennifer Reese was a student at Southwest Texas State - now Texas State - in San Marcos when she learned of the accident. She was preparing for finals. Her mom still can't believe that she completed all of her finals successfully while traveling back-and-forth and not knowing whether or not her parents would survive through the holiday season. Jennifer went on to graduate in 2003. And it was later that year that Claudette would urge Jennifer to apply for a position at Trinity's Registrars Office. Registrar Rodriguez knew he had struck gold again. Jennifer started at the front desk, became the Graduate Coordinator, and now works as the Degree Audit Coordinator. Jennifer received her MBA in Business and Marketing at Texas State in 2009.

Like Mother, like Daughter

Jennifer had been here before. When she came to visit campus after her mom started here she thought the trees smelled like grape bubble gum. For years after she started she would find other reminders of her mom. "I used to go through old files and would stumble upon things that she had put her mark on," Jennifer told me. Claudette had coordinated classroom reservations and Jennifer would see the notes and pictures she left of the spaces in the on-line reservation software system.

Jennifer says she tries to live up to her perfectionist mother. Rodriguez describes the two as very similar in how they approach their work. They are both driven and eager to get down to business. He says Jennifer is a bit quieter and more serious in her approach. Rodriguez says, "They are extra dedicated, sharp, organized, and detailed. Under their exteriors they have great humor." They are not the same person though. Claudette loves classic rock and gambling junkets - Jennifer, tote bags.

Claudette and Jennifer
Christmas Tidings

Despite their tragedy, Jennifer, her brother and sisters, and Claudette, all celebrate Christmas with enthusiasm.The memory of the Christmas they spent at a private Ronald McDonald House in Dallas in 2000 seems like a long time ago. Jennifer says her mom still enthusiastically decorates, placing a tree in every room.  "Mom still makes sure we get ten presents each," Jennifer says with a wry smile. They reminisce about Tim, especially during the holidays. A scholarship at Texas State bears his name.

Claudette describes Jennifer as methodical, patient, and sensitive. She says Jennifer never forgets her family's tragedy and uses it to focus on the human element of the people she works for and serves. Students wouldn't know what Jennifer went through. She is focused on them when they come to her for assistance. They never know her sense of persistence and courage. Jennifer is proud of her 12 years and hopes to stay on for a long time. She has deeper roots than most as a member of the Trinity family.

This holiday season the Trinity community should be thankful for many things, including Claudette and Jennifer. Claudette says that were it not for the accident she may still very well be here. In many ways, she still is. Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Some people are SO competitive...

Sore winners
There are more dysfunctional work places than bearable ones. I know this because I have met people. I will now go about explaining why we, in Student Development, are not the former, though the evidence may indicate otherwise.

First off, Student Development is the informal moniker for what used to be Student Affairs, but now includes staffs from the Experiential Learning and Career Success and Student Success Centers as well as a few colleagues from International Services and Study Abroad. Basically, we are the ones who serve, support, and challenge our students in so many ways across campus. We are dedicated, hard-working, and professional. We care deeply about our students.

Games of Thrones: The Banners
We have three committees: the Divisional Assessment Team; the Professional Development Committee; and the Social Committee. For our purposes I am going to explain the Social Committee. This is the group that plans our gatherings (end-of-the-year party, Holiday Jubilee, etc.). This year, with the larger Student Development Team in place, that committee decided to split us into four teams to get to know other colleagues from various areas.The idea was to have friendly competitions at monthly lunches. The first was football trivia and October's was a "Minute to Win It" style of games.

It turns out that there are some competitive people in the Student Development area. Apparently, these people, including me (according to some), were split up into different teams. Because it would be rude to name these people I will do so: Melissa Flowers, Jamie Thompson, Stephanie Ackerman, and Lisa Chapa are the worst. It is worth noting that Melissa and Stephanie are from the east coast, so, you know...

There has not been a game yet that hasn't elicited some form of controversy. Apparently dedicated professionals can squabble over the smallest perceived injustices. It is odd to me because every team except mine has found one way or another to cheat. One person used both hands in the stacking ping-pong ball and cup bouncing game, which stabilized what was supposed to be an unstable stack. But it would be petty to complain. We have all gotten over the fact that Wanda Olson's team won the football trivia contest though the night previous, her husband Phil, was in possession of all of the questions. And answers. But karma is a thing, and the same team was shut out in the second competition. Turns out "Blue Steel" lacks a fierce competitive spirit.

Our team, the "Esther Bunnies," is named after our Captain, Esther Kim. It is the most creative team name, though there are apparently no points for that.(Other rejected suggestions: Kim Rats, Kim Dandies, The Fi-esthers, Court Esthers, and Besther.)

While this may be giving us strong connections outside the office, I can say there is definitely tension between me, Megan, and Yvonne on game days. This has become serious. I have to admit to having the shakes as I was (victoriously) stacking lug nuts eight high (on their sides) using a skewer. My teammate, "Brandy the Intern," thought it would motivate me by yelling, "They are all doing better than you," though the careful approach proved the correct one. I don't know if I was nervous about the task, nervous about wanting to win, or nervous about how I would fire my intern.

Who knew that what would bring out the worst in us would also bring out the best in us. But it has. Over the years we have done these really nice events with awards, centerpieces, and words of encouragement and support for how we help our students discover, grow, and become. This year though, there is something different in the air. Competition, complaining, boorish-behavior, a lack of civility, and a keen sense of anticipation for the next game day. Everyone but the "Esther Bunnies" hates me. But I don't care about them. By the end of the academic year we are going to win this thing. Isn't that the sign of a perfectly healthy workplace?

Perpetual Giving

Katie Ogawa chats with a conference attendee.
I once wrote a post about Trinity's over dependence on student Katie Ogawa in campus publications and marketing. She was, of course deserving, but we have many phenomenal students. So I hate to add to the mystique here, but even after graduating in 2014, Katie continues to bring our University the best PR imaginable. On October 31, Katie was flown in from Albuquerque to the Oblate School of Theology "Dorothy Day for Today" seminar. Katie received their first annual Social Justice Advocate Award in the student category. The excellent presentation was made by Chris Plauche of the Catholic Worker House. Check out the introduction and presentation below.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Homegrown Talent

I had a nice dinner with Trinity Alumna Noelle (Stockman) MacGregor (2001) and her friend from Houston recently. Noelle and Lori were here for a meeting and brought Lori's high school senior daughter Alex for a campus visit. Alex would be a perfect fit for Trinity and we would fit her like a glove. Lori told me that Noelle has been raving about Trinity for some time. This is not a new narrative. So many alumni spread the gospel of Trinity to others. More than once I have talked to a student whose neighbor or family friend went to Trinity and pitched it for its wonderful quality.

This is a special place. So special, that a number of graduates have become boomerang employees. A quick snapshot reveals that currently we have over 90 employees who graduated from Trinity. They have multiple experiences and stories, but it is very telling to me, that like our network of alumni cheerleaders, such as Noelle, so many talented people just can't get enough of this place. They turn their academic careers into professional ones.

When employers hire Trinity graduates, they almost always gain a superior employee: someone who can see the big picture; a person with social skills; a strong communicator; a person who can dig into the minutiae; a hard worker; and most commonly, someone who is extremely bright. When we hire Trinity graduates we are almost never disappointed. Of course we have tremendous employees who have come from elsewhere. Interestingly, they generally mirror the qualities of the Trinity alumni we hire.

This summer, in a bit of a coup, alumnus Mike Bacon was hired as the VP for Advancement and Alumni Relations. He embodies the Trinity spirit and news of his selection rippled through the alumni community like a tsunami. An insider was at the helm. One reason, besides their skill levels, is that alumni already know us and get us. It takes others awhile to learn and embrace the Trinity culture. It is elusive to define and it is unique. This is one reason why Mike's selection resonated so well.

I have worked here for over 25 years. I have probably eaten more meals in Mabee Hall in the history of Trinity than anyone else. I have probably climbed the tower more times, too. I have sat through more retirement receptions, been in every dorm room multiple times, and likely have more Trinity t-shirts than anyone... ever. But I am still an outsider. Meanwhile, people who have graduated from here will always have something I don't: a Trinity degree. I will always be Ned Stark's Jon Snow. But that is how it should be. Blood is thicker than water, and Trinity's worldwide family is just as robust on campus. We all win when we hire Trinity graduates. A Trinity graduate and a Trinity employee... That's usually an inspiring combination.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Letting Go: ParentTalk

For 14 years the ParentTalk listserv was good enough. In the spring of 2001 the Student Affairs staff put some strategies in place to advance parent engagement. This was in response to a growing chorus of concerns that the only time parents heard from us (Trinity) was when it was time to pay the bill.

Dating back to the expansive Coleen Grissom era, involvement with parents was always a hallmark of the Trinity experience. Back in the days when she was "The Dean" in the 1980's and beyond, she put on what seemed to be a one-person show for parents during a special summer orientation.

By 2001, and after she returned full-time to the faculty, fewer parents were attending in the summer and we focused our attention orienting parents when they were on campus en-masse with their new students in August.This has served us well. We get in front of more parents and in this electronically-paced world, giving up a weekend mid-summer just doesn't work for a lot of parents, especially given our reach beyond Texas and associated travel.

Our multi-pronged approach included a summer newsletter for new parents, a quarterly parent newsletter, a calendar/handbook for parents, and beefed up Fall and Spring Family Weekends. As the internet grew the summer newsletter and regular newsletters shifted to electronic versions that we could publish with greater frequency. We created a pretty good parent Web page (and discontinued the printed calendar - though a printed one-pager is available on-line).

Over the last couple of years a group of us meet quarterly to manage our parent relations. Staff members from Career Services, Admissions, Advancement, Student Involvement, Marketing, and the Dean of Students Office collaborate and coordinate a new multitude of programs including TU-in-the-City; Summer Send-offs; special luncheons; and more. This meshes with our philosophy that parents are partners, not distractions. Additionally, we are pretty clear that we are student-centered unless the issue of a student's success here hangs in the balance. Then we want to hear from parents or we initiate that communication.

Sometimes students don't like this because they want to be independent, though the money their parents spend on them comes in handy. That is an age-old tension between emerging adults and their parents. We do what we can to coach both sides through that.

Our crown-jewel of parent programs we rolled out in 2001 was the ParentTalk listserv. It was an electronic forum (mostly email) for parents and by parents to communicate about issues privately. It was an immediate hit. In the first year we decided to host a ParentTalk coffee on Fall Family Weekend at my home and it became an annual tradition. The idea was to put names and faces together so parents could meet some of the frequent contributors. Very quickly the list was split up as active members and lurkers (as opposed to stalkers). Name tags actually featured everyone's email addresses.

The first group had many colorful characters. Bruce from Colorado was a ParentTalk celebrity and he remained on the forum years after his daughter transferred. Parents led by women named Cory, Diane, and others started vacationing together despite being from California and Maine. The forum had its growing pains. The first challenge was handling differences in opinion. One parent expressed some unhappiness that Trinity was hosting the Vagina Monologues, saying "this isn't what I sent my kid to Trinity for." As I tried to prepare a response as moderator another parent posted "this is exactly why I sent my kid to Trinity." A long culture of mostly civil dialogue emerged where opposite opinions often ended up settling in the center.

The culture continued to grow and included George from Houston whose wife and I had to counsel off the forum. Others stood up to assume leadership roles and even today, and the popular Leslie in Jamaica who has been on the list the longest continue to chimes in despite her daughter being long gone from Trinity.

Students have had mixed feelings about the forum. They worried what their parents were saying about them and sometimes resented that parents were in the know about so much. Some parents went rogue and shared posts with their students who claimed, frequently, that those parents had no clue what their own students were doing on campus. They would be mortified. Mostly, it was a chance to take the most involved, concerned, and angsty parents and let them guide one another and talk each other down.

The most benign posts asked about nearby mechanics (Chevron) or restaurant and hotel reviews. We were one of the only schools to have a forum like this and my colleagues often thought I was crazy: too MUCH parent voice... too MUCH group-think. I rarely saw it that way, except when it came to complaints about food. While students were being painted pictures of bread, water, and raw potatoes I was not beyond taking my phone to Mabee to videotape all of the food options to post as a reality check. (Dean-rage.)

What parents have valued the most has been the moments when they could ask for support. "My kid is lonely/miserable/homesick/failing. What do I do?" And parents responded with empathy and care. The next year the same distressed parents were doling out the advice. It hasn't been unusual for parents of sick kids to see if anyone else's kid could check on them. And they did, including bringing care baskets for the ailing.

Over the last two years parents have asked about changing away from the forum. Facebook was gaining steam as a forum. In comparison to our higher-maintenance, less user-friendly, somewhat clunky list, Facebook offered advantages. Sometimes parents were overwhelmed by emails when a hot topic arose. It wasn't uncommon for somewhat surly dads to contact me about how to "get off this damn thing."

So as the requests for Facebook grew we added a private page this year: TU Parents. My staff and I wagered how quickly this would supplant the still-running ParentTalk. I won. Within days of the roll-out there were over 200 parents on the page. Nary a tumbleweed rolls through the ParentTalk listserv anymore.

I like that people can post photos and links ad that the page is generally private. It is already different though. I don't see the posts being nearly as personal or people being nearly as vulnerable. As an over-discloser I will try to prime the pump from time to time. I like the new format. it is easier for me, has a cleaner and more professional look, and is a forum that is comfortable and familiar to many. I will still moderate it and approve those who request to join (or not - no students allowed).

I don't think I am mourning this shift. It is good to mix it up, to update, and to evolve. But I like what we've had and how it fit with our hands-on high-touch culture here. Like most parents though, it seems inevitable. Time to let go.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Saturday Night Lites

Football is back and the Trinity took care of a tough Sul Ross team 30-12 on Saturday night. Not all the action happened while the clock was running. The new tailgating policy has been successfully rolled out. LeeRoy, the campus tiger mascot celebrated his birthday at halftime (hopefully will have a link soon). And new President Danny Anderson competed in the halftime bat races and made a nice showing of it. I suspect he skipped the tailgate libations, giving him a slight edge.

I got to spend some time with my colleague Yvonne's little boy Phillip. He was very entertaining as we waited in a long line for Powerade at the concession stand. He chastised me for not knowing they had purple flavor, told me he retired from football after one season, and wondered why I got an iPhone as part of my job and his mother didn't. Unfortunately I had to borrow some cash from new VP for Advancement and Alumni Relations, Mike Bacon. That quickly turned into a photo-op I added to his Facebook page. I may have misrepresented the photo as him taking money from a poor young donor. But.. picture don't lie.

Finally, it was a thrill to see former TU student (and one of my runners) Brianna Timourian (below) on campus. She was a TU student for one year and then transferred to Southwestern, where she is now a junior. It was there, at SU, during Brianna's sophomore year, that she ran cross-country with Danielle King. Danielle transferred to Trinity this fall and Brianna was on campus this weekend to visit her. In other words, they each transferred in different directions. I know Brianna's dad, Derek, who works at Southwestern. He knew my son, Nathan, who attended there. His other son went to TCU and he and my son Aaron started the same year and worked together at the TCU Rec Center during their freshman years. All that to say, Brianna and Danielle report that Trinity's dining services has a slight edge over Southwestern's.

Danielle and Brianna at the game.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Under the Covers

WWJJD? John Jay: lawyer, diplomat, founder
It's been a cover story: locally, regionally, and nationally. The video evidence seems conclusive. Two players from John Jay High School took cheap shots at a referee near the end of a recent football game. What followed was just as absurd. First, accusations that a coach put them up to it (troubling if it is true... and if it isn't), and second, that the referee had made not one, but two, racial slurs, using the n-word as well as telling Spanish speakers to speak English, because "this is America."

By most accounts the referee has an impeccable record. And if he is racist there are better ways to address such allegations. The cover stories of the young men ring false. Sure, we live in an age where abuse of authority and racism seem to make daily headlines. So we shouldn't dismiss the statements of the teens without some review. Indeed, cell phone video is routinely exposing what we often feared. However, anyone who watched this unfold could have scripted how it would play out before the clock hit zero and people ran for cover: video evidence, accusations of racism, lawyering up on both sides, talk radio conversations about criminal charges, veiled allegations of slander, and claims that boys will be boys. These boys, appearing on national television have little credibility, not because of their race, not because of their hair, but because their massaged statements seem manufactured, again by script. The incident video shows two players taking action into their own hands with the subtlety of a Donald Trump insult.But one of the parents claim it is being misinterpreted.

Sadly, we have seen this across campuses too. The racist sing-song from Oklahoma University with the hollow apology and claim that the leader was perhaps drunk, misunderstood and is really a good guy, is one recent example. Like the boys from John Jay, the young men involved were sorry, but were suddenly the victims being harassed on social media. The OU boys hired attorneys and the fraternity may sue someone, because, that's what you do. Never mind that this may be part of the group's culture.

The men at Old Dominion displaying their Daddy Day Care signs were just as brazen. In some ways, they're worse, because they think since they were just "joking" it made everything okay. This culture, the one of misogyny, is what partly underlies the issues campuses face regarding sexual assault. Objectification is no joking matter, and victims everywhere are saying so. Loudly. Unfortunately, in sexual assault cases, there is little incentive for the accused to be truthful. The accused face consequences for policy violations and because they might also face criminal and civil charges, mostly have to hire attorneys and repeat the now common mantra "based on the advice of my attorney I refuse to answer any questions." Suspension is one thing, jail time another.

There are other, lighter examples. For years our students would make up excuses in hopes of being released from the residency requirement. One year a student reported a bed-wetting problem. Word got out and the next year the bed-wetters on campus were lining up at the housing office, documentation in hand. It's not out of the ordinary for students who face our Student Conduct Board for minor alcohol violations to later tell board members they thought they would take their chances by lying. No hard feelings.

Welcome to college, where Web pages tout integrity, global citizenship, service, and scholarly communities, gloss over tales of adolescents behaving badly while maturing into adults. By-and-large, most students are mostly terrific, most of the time (just avoid YikYak). We offer a safe place for students to make mistakes and learn. Some would say it is insular. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with cases of poor behavior. Other times we find a glimmer, when someone takes responsibility for his or her actions. In a recent hearing, two first-year pot smokers were so sweet, so apologetic, and so convincing to the conduct board, that the older students wanted to take them home with them. And the sanctions suggested they were rewarded for their candor. Other times many students are generally reflective about their choices, their reputations, and their futures.

There is frequently incentive to lie, deflect, blame, downplay, and justify.

I don't have any answers to this. It's simply the world we live in, where we spin, we lawyer up, and we dodge responsibility. It happens with high school kids in San Antonio and deflated footballs in Foxboro. There are certainly bigger issues than football. And college. But it all seems discouragingly the same. We made this bed. Now we lie in it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Touch and Go

The people that flow through Trinity University - its employees and students - are transient. Some stay a little while, some a long time. Some make dramatic and high-profile impacts and others work quietly and without much attention.

This week, Mail Center Director Edward De La Garza stopped by to tell me goodbye after six years at Trinity. He is one of those employees many might not know. But he made an impact in automating our Mail Center and combining our Central Receiving and Mail center operations. He saved the University thousands of dollars, annually, because he knew how to improve procedures and get value for bulk mailing projects.

Mostly though, Edward worked really hard. He was always thinking ahead, combining his vision with his hands-on attention to detail. He was quick with a quip and a joke, and integrated values into his work, his supervision, and his care for students.

Edward and his wife are headed to Duke where he will run their campus operation. A big Blue Devil fan he is excited for this new challenge. I was touched that he stopped by to say farewell. He thanked me for the opportunity he had to work here, as he was hired during one of my stints as Interim VP for Student Affairs, when the Mail Center was still reporting to us.

He also told me he called my former Student Affairs colleagues Raphael Moffett (Langston) and Ben Newhouse (Birmingham Southern) to thank them more directly for their confidence, support, and leadership. They really brought him here. Typical thoughtful Edward.

Raphael and Ben got another call that same week. This one from Jamie Thompson, Director of Student Involvement. Jamie ascended to that position when Raphael and Ben moved on to higher positions at different campuses. It is a major point of pride when our colleagues are hired away, though we miss them. There are usually others, like Jamie, who can take the helm. It speaks volumes that connections made here are so frequently sustained over time and distance.

Her call to them was sadder. Our dear colleague, Carolyn Bonilla, was killed in a car crash in the early morning hours of September 4. She collided with an 18-wheeler. She too started in the Mail Center, in 2008, but before long was snatched up by the staff in the Coates Center, to work with Ben, Raphael, and others, as a secretary, and then building coordinator until 2014. As some of us do, thinking the grass is greener elsewhere, Carolyn took a position away from Trinity last year, only to return two months ago to serve as the secretary in the Department of English. There, she was reunited with her Student Affairs friend and colleague Ruby Contreras. In all of her roles here, Carolyn stayed away from the spotlight. She connected with several colleagues and a handful of students she supervised in the Coates Center.

The faculty and staff there were already smitten with Carolyn. And her old Student Affairs friends were thrilled to have her back on campus. Real, sincere, funny, sassy, hard-working, and loyal, Carolyn was a great employee and a great colleague.

It was a tough week for Trinity, losing two people like Edward and Carolyn (again). Carolyn's passing touched many, in the Mail Center, in Facilities (where her brother Roy works), in the Registrar's Office, in the Business Office, and of course, in the student services areas. Like so many others, their fingerprints are all over this place. Their impacts and their presence, will fade with time, but they will be part of us forever too.

We are reminded, again, that the people make this a special place. The campus culture is built through their minds, on their backs and by their hands. It's both joyous and melancholy, in a way, for how fleeting it can be. Trinity is bigger than any of the people that make it home. That's how it works. People come. They touch us. And they go. For better, and for worse, they always will.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hurt so Good

T-Pain (far right, I think) dazzles the crowd.
Editors note: There are several fun links in this post, check 'em out.

I didn't really know about American Authors when they were announced as the Welcome Week concert act for August 28, 2015. But I happened to hear "Go Big or Go Home" on Sirius radio shortly thereafter and was intrigued. Could this finally be the big name and current artist we have always wanted for the Welcome Week concert? So I downloaded their album "Oh, What a Life," and couldn't believe my ears. First, I also recognized "Best Day of My Life," but more importantly, I fell in love with the rest of the album: catchy, smart, great to run to, and upbeat. You know they are good if they aren't in the VMA line-up.

When word came that they needed to change the date of their Trinity gig (yes, I wrote "gig"), I encouraged the Program Board and Student Government Association to make it work. They did exactly what you would expect: they ignored me. They thought the date mattered more than the talent. Instead, they booked a rap artist named T-Pain.

I think I was the only one who was disappointed - though SOMEONE (some students) had to initially book American Authors. The biggest complaints I heard about American Authors was that they were too mainstream and seemed like a knock-off of Imagine Dragons. Well, that's not bad company. American Authors was on Good Morning America this summer which should count for something. But students have always liked more obscure bands because they seem more hip as a lot of people don't know them yet.

My American Authors t-shirt in the trash.
I think American Authors is poised to make another leap with their second album and explode nationally. But I thought Madonna was a one-hit wonder too. This is what our students have always wanted: an up-and-coming big name band they could tell their friends at other campuses about. People still like to brag about when we had Pat Green here. But there were under currents of dissatisfaction about American Authors. So who are you going to side with - a 55-year-old white male or a bunch of college students? Well, the concert is funded through the student activity fee, so I guess they paid for the right to not listen to me.

When T-Pain was announced the students were really excited. I had never heard of him, so checked iTunes and couldn't believe I had not been exposed to "I'm in Luv with a Stripper,""Booty Wurk (one cheek at a time)," or "Up Down (do this all day)."

The Program Board was left with several hundred unusable "American Authors" T-shirts and I was left with "Shawty Get Loose." T-Pain rose to fame several years ago, and like Sister Hazel and Bowling for Soup, before, was not an up-and-comer, but seemed more of a down-and-outer. I think we really did peak with Pat Green and Cory Morrow, and possibly hit a low with Tyga from last year.

In my day (yes, here he goes) I had my favorites that older people didn't get either. Warren Zevon with his crass "Excitable Boy," Jackson Browne with "Rosie," and even Bruce Springsteen with "Red-headed Woman" weren't beyond reproach. Every generation has its envelope pushers, from Elvis the Pelvis, to the Beatles, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and their socks. And no, I don't really like rap.

But T-Pain was awesome. I couldn't understand most of the words, except "stripper" and "shake it." But despite the lack of instruments, he, his co-singer, and his hype-man were full of energy and had the students worked into a bit of a frenzy. I had to admit, I couldn't see American Authors doing that. I was the oldest non-uniformed person there (not counting TUPD and Student Involvement Director Jamie Thompson's dad). I was also the dad of the youngest one there (not in a stroller, Melissa Flowers!). I had to ask students which one was T-Pain (and later, some actually asked me). But I was impressed that the group wore the Trinity t-shirts they were gifted and seemed to also feed off the crowd.

I would learn later that they were pleasant guests and when they left our version of the "green room" that the Cartoon Network was still playing on the telly. They were apparently among our more polite and gracious concert acts. Tyga.

I don't anticipate downloading any T-Pain music. But I was reminded that I can be wrong sometimes and that I should let students be students. They didn't listen to me and when American Authors wins a Grammy next year I can say "told you so." The students had a blast and I haven't heard anything but positive comments. And who knows, maybe by this time next year Carly Rae Jepson will be on her way down, and available.

Monday, August 31, 2015

All in: Optimal Buzz and B'low Optimal at Trinity University

Optimal Swag
After a two-year pilot program, Trinity has fully rolled out its B'low Optimal alcohol program this fall. The program offers on-campus students an incentive to drink according to Optimal Buzz program guidelines, created several years ago by Dr. Richard Reams Associate Director of Counseling Services.

For years Trinity University worked with students, faculty, and staff, through the Trinity Alcohol Coalition to develop cohesive messages and programs that fit to these three tenets: we acknowledge students will drink; we care deeply about student health and safety; and we will follow our alcohol policy as proscribed by law.

Our Responsible Friend policy acknowledges students will drink and shows we care about them by letting students off the hook if someone calls for help because they see another student in crisis related to alcohol. No one gets in trouble. Lawful alcohol at tailgates is now part of policy and complies with these tenets. Beer and wine are served in the Skyline Room for various events. There are many examples.

We have been reflecting this approach through a brief and practical video/slide show we send to new students and publish on our alcohol web page:

Dr. Reams used to talk about the Optimal Buzz with first year residence hall students, but we were only hitting about half of each class. We produced a video this year that was shown at New Student Orientation to all new students, with much greater reach. It acknowledges that students will drink and teaches them how to drink like (most) adults - to be safe and drink in moderation:

The B'low Optimal program takes the Optimal Buzz a step further. If students are caught drinking, but say "I wanna blow," the Residential Life staff allows them to opt-in for a breathalyzer reading. If they are within the Optimal Buzz range up to .06 BAC, then they only receive a pre-warning. This acknowledges students will drink, shows we care about their health and safety, and still complies with policy (just with an adjusted sanction - the pre-warning).

This is self-sustaining, financially, as we have used student fine money from alcohol and drug cases to fund the videos, new breathalyzers, and some of the items pictured above: shirts for new students; cups, with serving-size markers for sophomores; and bottle openers for juniors and seniors. Next year seniors will receive shot glasses that state: "This is ONE drink - Go Optimal."  The staff is doing an accompanying poster campaign as well.

Let's face it. Many alcohol education programs miss the mark. We will be assessing this approach to see if it is effective in reducing excessive drinking. Early reviews in the pilot program were promising, though we learned many lessons that have been addressed in the new full program.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Pizza and Pleasure Redux

In January 2014 I wrote about some push back to the Trinity Pizza & Pleasure program. This series offers sex education and pizza (as an incentive to draw attendance). Briefly, some (mostly parents - and not many) objected that the series seemed to emphasize promiscuity and there was no forum for alternatives. Program architect Dr. Richard Reams agreed to add some different topics. Here is the lineup and attendance figures from 2014-2015:
  • Getting What You Want from Sex (Sept. 18; 60 attendees) Presented by Cay Crow.
  • Getting What You Want from Abstinence (Sept. 25; 22 attendees) Presented by Ms. Crow.
  • Body Image and Sexuality (Oct. 2; 20 attendees) Presented by Ms. Crow.
  • Sexual Orientation and Identity (Oct 9; 22 attendees) Presented by Dr. Richard Reams.
  • The Secrets of Love (Jan 22; 33 attendees) Presented by Dr. Erin Sumner.
  • The Secrets of Dating (Jan 29; 32 attendees) Presented by Dr. Sumner.
  • The Secrets of Men’s & Women’s Sexuality (Feb. 5, 13 attendees) Presented by Ms. Crow.
  • ‘Kinky’ Sexuality and Relationships (Feb. 12; 20 attendees) Presented by Ms. Crow and guest.
I wanted to review how the new programs were received. Dr. Reams, a master of assessment, has submitted his results, and they were quite positive. In his report, he states:

The three new sessions (Getting What You Want from Sex, Secrets of Love, Secrets of Dating) were the most highly attended and are definitely worth continuing to put into the annual rotation of topics.  Attendees generated new topics that are worthy of consideration for the 2015-16 P&P series: distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy relationships, addressing myths about sexuality, same-sex dating and relationships, and recovering from a relationship breakup. 

Additionally, some of the post-program survey comments on the abstinence program noted ways in which the program was meaningful:

Knowing that "Not being emotionally ready [for sex] is normal"

Talk to your partner about boundaries
It helped me understand that I am not alone
It helped me feel better about my choice

The changes were covered in the Trinitonian in February and it seems that Dr. Erin Sumner is an excellent program addition.

I should note that in the original post I discussed bringing Wendy Shalit to campus to speak on these topics. We decided to first see what we could do internally before going to the expense. The programs we offer likely don't justify increased costs on a per person basis. Our experts do great work anyways. Based on the assessment we will continue these programs in-house.

Some lessons learned or reinforced:

- Nearly everything we do is about education. This series has been an excellent and growing program for five years. Regardless of the topics, messages of safer sex and respect are consistent themes.
- Sometimes we don't know everything. The suggestions from parents about a better-balanced program, once implemented, enhanced the program.
- Dr. Reams, his colleague Dr. Amy Stone, the presenters, and the departments that sponsor this series have cobbled together a great program in the absence of a sexual education course on campus.
- Assessment is important in determining whether or not our programs are effective and if they contribute to student learning. Kudos to Dr. Reams and others who have lead the way in program assessment on campus.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Seventh Annual: The Year in Review - 2014-2015

The portrait of Dennis Ahlburg hangs in the Northrup Hall Presidential suite.
Another academic year is in the books, and as is tradition, I take a look back at the year that was. I try to think broadly, beyond the Student Affairs perspective. I have certainly missed some things and invite readers to post on those things in the comment section.

I will write a handful of posts between now and August, but look for more regular posting to occur when we begin the 2015-2016 academic year.

Top Stories

1. March Sadness
The Trinity University community was rocked by two very public tragedies. On March 4, Professor Mike Kearl passed away after suffering a heart attack while walking across campus. His students and faculty colleagues, were devastated. The community suffered another shock when five students were in a car crash on March 30, leaving one student dead and two in critical condition. The campus still mourns the loss of Dr. Kearl and young Corey Byrnes.

2. Presidential Transitions
President Dennis Ahlburg stepped down, finishing his four-year term in December. Michael Fischer took the institutional helm until Danny Anderson was selected and took over on May 29. Dr. Ahlburg came in with an agenda to affect change and he advanced several campus initiatives and connected to many in the community. President Anderson comes in at a time of exciting change, ready to advance the Trinity Tomorrow strategic plan and the Pathways curriculum.

3. Centers of Attention
The Trinity Tomorrow Strategic Plan is becoming a reality. Centers for Student Success, Experiential Learning/Career Success, and International Education are coming on line with soft openings this year. Hopefully a year from now these places will have more permanent homes and will be operating at full capacity and improving the student experience even more.

4. Coalition for Respect
While sexual assault continues to be a national and campus issue, the Trinity community has made great strides to address the issue head on as demonstrated by this annual report. It shows a commitment to effective policies and procedures and prevention and education.

5. Speakers in the house
Admittedly, the lectures that drew my attention were those in my areas of interest. Doris Kearns-Goodwin was really terrific. Tim Wise was a passionate and fiery MLK speaker - perhaps the best one yet. Keith Edwards gave an incredible talk on the culture of sexual assault. The top program was the Reading TUgether event that featured Diana Holt and Edward Elmore. What a treat!

6. Leveraging the faculty
The Trinity Diversity Connection and others hosted several faculty-led panels. Most notably, the discussion about race and Ferguson, co-sponsored with Black Student Union was insightful and impactful. Panels on ISIS as well as the transgender tipping point showcased the faculty for those unable to take their classes. These programs are a great reminder of the learning environment our students are immersed in.

7. Residency requirement
This issue was raised by the Student Government Association and was discussed by the SGA President, Sean McCutchen with the administration and Board of Trustees. It definitely received fair play. The institution remains committed to the residency requirement. It is part of our modern-day DNA. The staff and students will continue to look at ways to make the upper-class experience a better one. The North Hall renovation is a terrific start.

8. Pikes place
The fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, was removed from campus following several tumultuous years and sanctions from the student-led Greek Council. The national fraternity experiment was relatively brief. Going forward, there are terrific opportunities for our young men to grow and bond in other fraternities with strong campus roots.

9. Smoking
The Student Government Association had a difficult time getting student survey responses related to the residency requirement. Conversely, the responses about smoking were abundant and pointed. Students want a healthy environment in so many regards, but having a smoke-free or tobacco-free culture imposed is less palatable. This is not uncommon when schools transition to smoke-free. It is likely inevitable, but the timing and phasing in will be important.

10. Urban Renewal
New football coach, Jerheme Urban, brought in a new philosophy, including morning practices, in an effort to reset the program after many successful years under Coach Mohr. In addition, #TigerPride is swelling up all over campus thanks to efforts of staff members such as John Jacobs, Michelle Bartonico and others. We have a new logo and a new fight song will be unveiled this fall.

- Tiger baseball nearly made the championship round in the College World Series!
- Coates Center refurbishment was well-received.
- Bell Center Bandit nabbed in refurbished Coates Center.
- Murchison dorm renovation (and elevator to upper campus)
- Standing item: Acabellas and Trinitones
- Honorable Mention: The Trinitonian is really good.

- Tyga... Probably the shortest Welcome Week concert ever, but at least it was horrible. American Authors in 2015 may allow us to go big, or go home.
- Hertz on Demand just didn't have the infrastructure to work well. But there is another (see On the Horizon, below).
- B-Cycle was set to launch in September, then January, then May, and now, hopefully September. Spokes still turning.
- Good2Go sexual assault was a creative approach to a vexing issue and was from a Trinity family. It never got traction, but it was a good idea.

Under the Radar
- Student Affairs kind of went away, but in style...
- TU Life app seems to have great promise, and hopefully will take off.
- Jim Cullum Jazz Band plays in the Skyline Room every first Saturday night of the month.
- The mayoral debate came to campus.
- Israel and Palestine is a huge topic for some on campus, and hosting speakers adds to the complexity.

Big Hurts
- In addition to the aforementioned Dr. Mike Kearl and student Corey Byrnes, retired professor John Donahue died as did recent retirees Reggie Lyro and Tom Nixon. The obituary page has brought other sad news to those of us who have been here awhile.
- Less extreme, the University has seen several employees retire, resign, or otherwise move on. We lost a president, a VP, John Greene Mary Denny, the Chapmans, Briana-Becka-Amelia from Student Life, and many more. Hate to see colleagues leave, though we sure attract great people.

On the Horizon
- While students were away... the Campus Carry gun debate heated up and it looks like we dodged a bullet, as private institutions can opt out, for now.
- We are wrapping up a five year complete re-do of our dining services and have some fun and positive changes in store for the year ahead.
- The First Year Experience will include a broad array of exciting new classes similar to the HUMA model. Game changer.
- Zip Car is coming to campus to replace the stalled Hertz on Demand program!

Year 6
Year 5
Year 4
Year 3
Year 2
Year 1

Bonus tracks
In case you missed it, here are some of the topics I got to write about this year. Trinity is rich with material:
On race
On advising
On YikYak
On drugs
On things students can do
On blogging

On nostalgia

Monday, June 8, 2015

Life, Death, and Student Affairs

Legends: Janet Waltman, Jim Potter, Debbie Kimbell, Pete Neville, Margaret Farris, Thurman Adkins, David Tuttle, Coleen Grissom, Gary Neal, Peg Layton, and Richard Reams
It's still too soon to talk about "the accident." But we'll get there.

This April, as the curtain fell on the Division of Student Affairs, it seemed perfect that former colleague Pete Neville was back in town for the first time since he left over ten years ago. After all, Pete, the Director of Student Activities was here when I began my Trinity University Student Affairs career in 1987. He was one of many. We'll get there too.

The dissolution of Student Affairs at Trinity has been more evolution than revolution. It probably started when VP for Student Affairs Felicia Lee left in 2010. Months later, her division would learn that she wouldn't be replaced. Student Affairs would report to Vice President for Academic Affairs, Micheal Fischer, in an effort to more fully integrate academic and student life. It made sense. I would remain as Senior Student Affairs Officer under the Associate VP title.

It's logical too, that the Trinity Tomorrow strategic plan would finally focus the University, among other things, on experiential learning, career success, and student support through a new Student Success Center. So this spring (2015) Student Affairs stalwarts (Counseling Services, Health Services, Career Services, and Community Service) were plucked away to be part of new campus "centers." What remained of Student Affairs then, was simply the Dean of Students Office, Residential Life, and Student Involvement (formerly CCI, formerly Student Activities...).

This is perfect in so many ways. The changes are mission and student centered, as they should be. It is an exciting time for Trinity University. But there is a little melancholy as the changes are implemented.

For Student Affairs folks, when the night is shattered by an early morning phone call, it is usually not good news. It can range from the report of a drunk or belligerent student, a request for a room search related to drugs, or an update about a student hospitalized for mental health issues. And at its worst, the call is about a student death. We fear it. It is hard for it not to feel like a failure - a failure to protect someone's child, sent here to discover, grow, become, not to die. Not on our watch.

When I arrived here in 1987, I could never imagine that I would be here nearly 30 years later. As a new Area Coordinator (now called Residential Life Coordinators) I was struck by my good fortune. I had never worked at a place that was so student driven. Most of that drive came straight from our Vice President and Dean, Coleen Grissom. Among her many axioms: "We don't do things to be administratively convenient - we do what is right for our students." Riding shotgun, Thurman Adkins seemed born old -- and wise. Over the years he would make Dean Grissom's goals his plans as a steady hand, working with student government and student conduct. With those two and Pete, Peg Layton rounded out my group of mentors and heroes.

It seems odd, now, for me to be at the helm as the division as it has unraveled. It feels Gorbachev-ian on a much lighter scale. It feels a bit like a failure to have happened on my watch, though it offers a fresh start. Res Life, and Student Involvement are now part of the re-branded "Student Life." This was my idea. For years, Student Affairs has seemed to some in the academy as a distraction to college, not a part of it. The new structure, and name, may put that to rest. In truth, Student Affairs, or Student Life, hasn't really changed, but it is just more of what it used to be. Sexual assault, alcohol, hazing, health issues, psychological hurdles, deceased parents, accidents, deaths.. these aren't new. In the age of technology, everything is faster, harsher, more public, more criticized. But with it are more rewards too. Working with young students, some more fragile than ever, has never been more gratifying. Students are clever, bright, sensitive, and they care about the world in ways they didn't used to.

Nevertheless, Student Affairs has always felt under-appreciated, and that isn't just a Trinity thing. In addition to handling crises, my colleagues here and elsewhere are expected to engage students outside the classroom. We need to keep them busy, happy, social (yet academically grounded), well-fed, well-exercised, and protected. At little schools we are charged to make the experience seem bigger and at big schools we work to make it smaller - for students to not feel like numbers. And we face harsh criticism - trying to balance a culture of order and at the same time a culture of openness. We face issues of the minority rights against the majority needs. We struggle to be consistent and flexible. And many days it seems no one thinks we get it right.

Sometimes it seems our task is the impossible: to protect students from one another and themselves, and to keep them safe.

There's been an accident and there may be fatalities. First year students were in a fast car, and there was a turn, and there was a crash. You better get to the hospital. 

Everything seemed to align in April of 2015. Pete was coming back, the division was evaporating, and it was the perfect time for a send-off. Student Affairs didn't start at Trinity in 1987. But it did for me. It became my life, and my personal and professional identities have been forever merged. So it seemed important to put this chapter appropriately to bed with Pete's visit. The call went out, and "legends" from 1987 already mentioned, along with Janet Waltman (Health Services), Jim Potter (Intramurals), Margaret Farris and Debbie Kimbell (Coates Center), and current staffers Gary Neal and Richard Reams (Counseling) answered the call.

We had lunch in the Skyline Room on April 9, 2015, to celebrate, reconnect, talk about old times, and to share our experiences. Those were shared when each person said a few words to our current staff and Jamie Thompson's leadership class. The underlying message: impact.

It was less than three months in as an Area Coordinator in 1987, when the night was broken. The impact of the crash hurdled two students out of the t-top and over the highway ramp. We lost two first year students, Michelle and Matt, and nearly lost two others, in a brief moment when the car swerved and hit a guard rail. Matt's sister was an upper-class student here at the time. That was over 25 years ago. And it still seems too soon to talk about. Too much raw pain. As I follow the lives of the survivors on Facebook, today, I never forget the two we lost, though I never knew them. It simply became "the accident." The speed, the unfairness, the randomness, and mostly, the tragedy.

What has been amazing about Student Affairs here became evident at the April lunch. The names and faces have changed and dozens have come and gone, leaving there indelible marks on the institution and mostly its students. The ethic of care that was so important to Coleen Grissom, as well as her successor, Gage Paine, and then finally, Felica Lee, has only become stronger. A culture is set at the beginning and there is a reason it is hard to change. The culture of Student Affairs in 2015 is the same as it was in 1987. The legacy of OUR legends (and yes, there are Grissom, Neville, Adkins, and Paine awards) lives on. The division and the structure may change, but the ethos doesn't. Indeed, while so much about our work has transformed since 1987, so much is exactly the same.

This time it was the TUPD Police Chief, Paul Chapa. His late night calls are never good. There's been an accident, and there may be fatalities. It was March 30, 2015. And it was happening again. Speed, a curve, and impact... We lost Corey. His sister, Natalie was a senior here who graduated this past May. We nearly lost two others, Andrew and Claire. And it feels too soon to talk about. Too much raw pain. It simply became "the accident." The speed, the unfairness, the randomness, and mostly, the tragedy.

In Student Affairs, we routinely and quietly deal with gravity, levity, and absurdity. It is how we live. Each year brings more of the same. Every issue seems familiar, yet each is different. If it is a circle of life, it can be one that is as gratifying as it is cruel. This spring, on this campus, we had a rare chance to reflect on that, to celebrate, and to get closure before we start a new chapter. What we heard about was fulfillment, making a difference, and being part of something bigger. I think most of us feel fortunate to have been called: through life, and death, and student affairs.

Friday, May 1, 2015

What do you say to a naked lady?

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Recently a young woman at Texas State sat naked on the steps of
the library as an art project. I think people would call it performance art. So, what would I do, as an administrator if it happened here? I also wonder how others feel. Some initial thoughts:

It's weird
Being naked in public just seems... unnatural. I mean, she wasn't wearing (hardly) any clothes and people could see she was naked. Several years ago a student in California known as The Naked Guy wore the emperor's clothes. Sometimes people do things in the name of art to simply draw attention to themselves. Or maybe they are troubled.

It's oddly sexist
If a guy did this people would be creeped out and would call him a pervert, or worse, just laugh at him.

It's art
Really, in this case it is expression, and art really is expression. Though unconventional she did communicate something to others... I am impressed with her courage if not her boldness. What started as odd actually morphed more from spectacle to message, at least for the thoughtful.

It's unfair to the other art students
...but of course most people take longer to do their artwork. So is it really art? It is possible she hadn't been doing well in class, and thought "oh crap, this is due today" and ran out to the library with her blindfold and headphones... Meanwhile, someone is laboring for weeks on his or her project. I could see that as unfair.

It makes the University choose between rules and expression
Sure, most universities have policies that explicitly or implicitly state that people should wear clothes. Sure, some people might be offended by this woman's actions. On the other hand, students do offensive things on most campuses on most weekends, and with much less thought or virtue. Universities are the open market places of ideas. In this case, people may be compelled to talk about the point of her art and the statement she is making in substantive ways. Or not.

In this case she did not violate any law and apparently no policies. I think Texas State handled it well. The story didn't become about them.

Free speech - again
Sometimes people have important things to say. Sometimes they have crude and rude things to say. And sometimes people are fighting oppression against themselves or others. Generally, even offensive speech is good speech because it stimulates ideas, allows students to find their voices, and helps them learn to choose their battles, to push back, and to be assertive while being civil.

To wrap it up...
I tend to think that if this happened here people would let it go. We let Calvert Ghosts happen. (That is a Halloween streaking tradition. We let that take place because it is relatively small, it isn't alcohol-driven,  the students are more like naked tots running from the bath to the bedroom with glee than anything harmless, and because we want to see naked people.)

What do you think? Weigh in on the poll at the upper right.